U.S. District Court rules government can compel biometric unlock of suspect’s phone

Law enforcement in the U.S. can force the biometric unlocking of a suspect’s phone in a underage pornography case, after the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho ruled that a fingerprint scan does not count as testimony, and therefore is not protected by the Fifth Amendment, Bloomberg Law reports.

Courts have previously been divided on whether providing biometric information is protected by the constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination, and both Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections were cited in the rejection of a recent warrant application.

The ruling reversed a magistrate judge’s decision blocking the search warrant application.

District Judge David C. Nye said no federal circuit court has yet ruled on the matter. Digital privacy attorney Matthew S. Adams of Fox Rothschild LLP said that biometrics and other advancing technologies are forcing courts to reevaluate constitutional principles, including increasingly extending those protections to prevent compelled decryption of mobile devices.

Consultants have advised police to avoid looking at suspect’s phones in order to avoid activating Face ID detection, which could lead to the phone requiring a password after reaching the maximum number of failed attempts, as passwords are considered testimony, and therefore protected by the Fifth Amendment.

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